Exercise caution with sports, energy drinks

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This article may not be popular with approximately 100 percent of the adolescents I know.
To get right to the point, a rigorous review of the medical literature over a nine-year period resulted in a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which stated that caffeine and other stimulants have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.
Sports drinks and energy drinks are big business worldwide. They are aggressively marketed towards children and adolescents, often for a variety of inappropriate uses.
A separate study showed that many teens did not know the difference between these two types of drinks, yet they are clearly not the same product.
Sports drinks are flavored beverages that contain water, carbohydrates, electrolytes, minerals and sometimes vitamins.
From their name, energy drinks imply calories, but actually contain stimulants, most often caffeine. In some popular brands, it is not clear what the exact caffeine content is and there is a startlingly wide range available, from the equivalent of two to 14 cokes per serving!
Sports drinks are promoted to optimize athletic performance, rehydrate and replace electrolytes. Some pediatric athletes can benefit from using these drinks, particularly those who engage in prolonged, vigorous exertion; for example, the cross country runner after a 45 plus minute run.
This is the most appropriate use of commercially available sports drinks, but for the average child in routine activity the use of sports drinks to replace water is not really necessary.
Excess intake may put a child at risk for obesity. As long as the daily caloric and other nutrient requirements are met, children should be taught to drink water routinely as the first drink of choice.
Teens are often like puppies in that they need more sleep and calories as they grow.
However, they also like to hang out, facebook, live out online fantasy roles, text and stay up late so they often complain of feeling tired; or rather, perceive the need to increase their energy levels.
Advertising shows us extreme athletes perform epic stunts or sleepy office workers suddenly rejuvenate and feel sharp as tacks and we think, “Sounds great! That’s just what I need; plus I’ll look so BA holding one of those awesome cans.”
The widespread availability and marketing strategies make energy drinks a challenge to avoid.
I like caffeine. I’m an adult (some might debate it) and hopefully not growing anymore.
In adult studies moderate caffeine intake may improve aerobic endurance, quicken reaction time and delay the onset of fatigue. However, these results are notoriously variable and dose-dependent.
The effects of caffeine in athletic performance has not been studied in children and adolescents. There is some concern and much unknown about the effect caffeine has on developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.
Caffeine is also known to increase heart rate, blood pressure, potentiate anxiety, especially if there is already underlying anxiety. The acidic pH in most energy drinks can also cause dental erosion.
As with just about every public health issue, education is the key.
Having accurate information and knowing what to do with it will help our youth make healthier lifestyle and dietary choices, even if they find themselves at risk for not looking as cool as those on TV.
The take home message: It’s still OK to hang out with friends and drink decaffeinated beverages.
Do not confuse sports drinks with energy drinks and do not try to rehydrate and replenish with an Energy drink after exercise.
The caffeine in energy drinks does not provide energy, but a reasonable diet that supplies adequate carbohydrates will.
Fat burning comes from dancing, snow boarding and rip sticking, not a drink. Getting that A on your test or paper comes from your brain and your preparation, not a juiced looking can.

Dr. Tom Csanadi
Child and Adolescent Medicine
Los Alamos